Guest post by Scott Mautz
Emily Colburn, a 36 year-old marketing director in a mid-sized consumer goods company on the West Coast, was squarely planted among the nearly 70% of us that research indicates have “lost that lovin’ feeling” at work. The inspiration she used to feel in her job, the full-on passion for it, had waned considerably.
She had risen quickly by using her intelligence in people pleasing to understand what was needed and to deliver excellent results and customer service. No matter what the challenge, she always said, “yes” and then delivered on it. She was respected and liked by her boss, co-workers and customers. But the same strength that had gotten her this far, was starting to work against her.
The People Pleasing Problem
The problem was Emily had a hard time saying “no.” People pleasing was more important to her than her own needs. The price she paid was suppressing what she really felt, and it had started to sap her passion.
The more her boss asked of her and the more she did, the more her work load increased and the more stuck and powerless she felt. The last straw occurred one day when her boss pulled her aside and said, “We just got this week’s sales numbers. We’re down again and Home Office is calling a meeting for tomorrow. I need to present an analysis on why we’re declining. I know you’re meeting with some key accounts today to resolve the issues causing our declining sales, but I need you to help me prepare for this meeting instead. I don’t want to look like a fool.”
Emily’s response was the usual “You got it!” even though inside she was screaming “Hell no!” Instead of pushing back, she had succumbed to an out-of-touch command to stop actually working on the problem and instead spend time on crafting a self-preserving story about the problem.
That was the moment Emily felt her last wisp of inspiration willingly impale itself on her letter opener. She knew something had to change.
4 Tips to Break the People Pleasing Habit
Emily’s situation is not unique. It’s not uncommon to lose your passion mid-career. Often, what gets us to so far is not what is going to get us farther. For Emily, the issue was “people-pleasing” for others it might be something else. But fortunately, it usually just takes a mid-course correction to refocus. And recognizing you have lost your passion and wanting to regain it is the first step.
Emily made the shift by following these four powerful principles:
- Commit to 90% self-worth, 10% assigned-worth. How you feel about yourself should flow dominantly from your own self-appreciation and self-acceptance. Emily’s was assigning 100% of her worth to what others thought of her. It was producing a fool’s errand; a never-ending chase for approval when Emily should have been pursuing authenticity instead.
- Focus on the “you-niverse,” not the universe. Start with yourself (the “You” in “You-niverse”) and set healthy boundaries that allow you to take care of your needs first. It’s impossible to be everything for everybody. Emily had an aha moment when she realized her over-focus on people-pleasing was actually selfish because it allowed her to avoid conflict, which she hated. A slight shift in orientation enables you to stay balanced, charged, and better able to serve others in a more authentic way.
- Spot the difference between compassion and compulsion. Be alert to what you are feeling before your typical pattern kicks in, rather than just acting robotically. What is your motivation? If your response is out of kindness, great. But if your motivation is to avoid conflict or get approval, you will notice your passion diminish if you let your pattern take over.
- Break the mirror. When your pattern is running you, you act like a mirror that just reflects back the person you’re in front of at the time. It cheats the world of the real you and limits your options. People will have greater respect and trust for you when they experience you as authentic. Think of the mirror metaphor when you notice your typical pattern kicking in.
Since Emily put into practice all of the above, she got promoted (into her boss’s job) and has fallen in love with her job again.
And you can too!
Scott Mautz is author of the new book: Find the Fire: Reignite Your Inspiration & Make Work Exciting Again. Download the free Find the Fire companion workbook at scottmautz.com. Get Scott’s free e-book to help you become a Once-in-a-Career Coach. Get Scott’s free leadership toolkit (including 8 Ways to Grant Intelligent Autonomy, Risk Taking Conversation Starters, Top 10 Characteristics of the Best Leaders, Top Behaviors of Rising Star Leaders, 11 Inactions That Will Kill Your Reputation as a Leader, 10 Insights on Inspirational Leadership, The Authenticity Code of Conduct, Purpose Power Questions, & more). Scott is also a popular keynote speaker, P&G veteran, Inc. columnist, and Indiana University adjunct professor.
I started to move on with “you-niverse”.Thanks to the team for giving the explanation for “you-niverse” and “universe”.
Thanks for your comment Durga and I hope you found the idea of the “you-universe” versus the universe helpful!
Great reminders! Thanks!!
Thank you, Gina! Hopefully, you find the reminders easy and actionable.
I have a hard time saying “no” but hadn’t thought of myself as a “people pleaser” until I read your article. All of a sudden it hit me, the place I need to start is admitting that this is a liability not an asset. I especially like your tip #3. Thanks for an excellent article. I’m going to buy a copy of your book now, and if I win a copy will give it to my boss as a holiday gift!
Thanks, James! You bring up an important point, many people don’t think of themselves as people-pleasers per se, even if they meet the classical description of one. The important thing to remember is that people-pleasing doesn’t come from a bad place – we want to please other people (duh). That’s a noble thing. Until it isn’t. And it isn’t when it starts interfering with all the unique contributions that you can bring to the table.
Point about compassion / compulsion is so true!. There are times when we actually want to say ‘No’ but end up doing the task – because it is for a greater cause. Eg: help a new colleague or do a task of great significance. Our motivation level never dips in such scenarios, in fact we feel happy and content for our contribution!
That’s right Nitin. Nothing wrong with “caving in” to the tendency because it can do so much good for the soul. It’s about knowing where the line is so you aren’t sacrificing your energy and personal well-being that could keep you from ultimately serving in a greater capacity in the future!
Interesting article considering that we live in a multicultural world and there are many ways of saying and interpreting the “No”. It is true that we cannot please everybody all the time and we ought to stand firm to a NO when it compromises our/company principles and values, however, it is also important how to say “No”.
I suggest to complement this reading with the book The mindful international manager.
Great point Arturo and thanks for the book recommendation. There are indeed different ways to say “no”. We don’t like to say no because of its inherent negativity, so offer an alternative: “No, but…”.The but allows you to turn down the request being made to you and redirect it to provide help in some other way. For example, “No, I can’t get that report done for you by 6AM tomorrow, but I can recommend someone else who can”, “but I can do that report if you give me 48 more hours,” etc.
Equally true for the “retired” generation. I find that if my goal is pleasing everyone, I end up cooking all the time – which is my least favorite way to spend my time!
Right on Betsy – stay strong!
what gets us to so far is not what is going to get us farther. great line. thanks for the insights
Thank you, Sandy for taking the time to comment!
Focusing on the you-niverse is a great suggestion. For those of us who are servant leaders, it is so hard to do. I find it happens in all aspects of my life. Lately, and it is funny, I have been telling people I need to be more selfish. The reaction has been “it’s about time!” from most people. I am glad to have my colleagues and friends support on my change.
Well said Valerie – it can feel counterintuitive for servant leaders like you. But it really is true, by being a bit more “selfish” it actually puts you in a better position over the long haul to serve more deeply, more frequently, with greater resonance.
I love tip #2, Focus on the “you-niverse.” I agree that we sometimes focus on others before ourselves and shortchange our needs.
It’s a matter of balance Jerry. Sometimes focusing on ourselves first puts us in a much better position to focus on others and serve them with excellence in the future!
I liked the article. Please enter my name for the drawing.
Right on John – thanks for your submission!
Thank from a recovering people pleaser.
Ha! I’m one too David!
I was in almost same situation. I tried to manage my overloaded tasks while other enjoyed lunch break.. I sat around an hour late everyday to complete my work. I realized only when I was over burdened by others work while they themselves were have fun during office hours right in front of me. I was a turning point and I changed the scenario once and for all…
I really enjoyed this article.. Its like my own story..
Thanks, Nauman – so many have stories like yours and the one I shared. I can only hope it was of value to you. If it was, now you can help someone else if you hear their story and it’s laced with People-Pleasing!
Excellent post about the dark side of people pleasing. It took many years to get this in balance, with values of commitment, excellence and Type A-ness deeply embedded in my brain. The biggest Ah-ha of the shift in thinking is the fact that one regularly encounters people asking for more than you can deliver does not mean one should succumb to it. When the no is given after I determine I can’t legitimately give of myself from a place of generosity, or if there is money involved, it is insufficient to feel good about my investment of time and energy, the process is eased considerably.
I like that line of thinking Mary – and it is SOO true that you regularly encounter people asking for more than you can deliver. I like the criteria you’ve outlined for yourself!
Scott, Great post! A recovering people-pleaser myself, I’m a firm believer that people-pleasing is one of the four great ‘Ps’ of disempowerment! When we’re in that mode, we’re not only giving power to others over us, but we are eroding our own in the process. Love your approach and tips!
Thanks Sharon – we have a hard enough time getting others to fully empower us, why would we disempower ourselves? Thanks for your comment!
A fine, timely and timeless piece! It reminds me of what I learned from a super- successful, super-busy executive coach: The art of the decline. His remedy for over-committing was to tell the asker that he would consider their request and be back to them within 24-48 hours. In that space of time, he would weigh whether or not responding to the request was important to HIM, not just to the other person. Would it provide some strategic value? Would it truly help the asker in a meaningful and lasting way? Or would it amount to a personal favor with little or no real value?
To this day, I practice the art of the decline and still slip up at times! But I never stop trying.
Keep at it Larry! I like the way you discern that if a request amounts to nothing more than a personal favor, it may be darn good reason to say “no”! Thanks for your comment!
Great and relevant post. Many of us just try to keep everyone happy (happens at home too!) without realizing that sometimes we need to say NO (a firm NO). It will be a disastrous CEO if he/she followed that route of saying YES to everything!
Thanks for reiterating & sharing!
Well said Santosh – “No” can be the most difficult word in the English language for us – but it’s so critical to utter at least every now and then!
“But if your motivation is to avoid conflict or get approval, you will notice your passion diminish if you let your pattern take over” Truer words were never spoken. Break the mirror let your passion guide you!
Yes Saju – BREAK THE MIRROR!
What a valuable article!! I love the difference between compassion and compulsion. I can see myself being the bobble-head who says “yes” to everything. One small point. I think it is critical to ask WHY you would say yes. Sometimes, Holding your nose and holding up your hand is the very tool for getting recognized and appreciated. Just don’t do it every timeur
Right on Eileen – it’s all about balance!